The Coast Guard has outfitted two more National Security Cutters (NSCs) with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), marking completion of installation of the first eight high-endurance ships with the ScanEagle drones.
The Coast Guard said on April 16 that system operation verification for the UAS on the Legend-class cutters Hamilton and Midgett was completed in March.
The Coast Guard’s NSCs employ the Boeing [BA] Insitu ScanEagle UAS on a contractor-owned and operated basis. So far, the ScanEagles have flown more than 3,300 flight hours on 20 NSC patrols, supported 78 interdictions, assisted in the seizure of illegal drugs worth more than $1.7 billion, and helped with the capture of 161 narco-terrorists, the service said.
The Coast Guard in June 2016 awarded the Insitu business unit a $117.2 million contract to provide small UAS for the NSCs. The current contract includes options that could extend service through June 2026.
The ScanEagle systems can provide more than 18 hours of continuous flight time per day on a vessel and are used for surveillance, detection, classification and identification of various targets. The UAS have also provided real-time damage assessments following natural disasters, helped with medical evacuations on ships, and aid in search and rescue operations.
Installation of the UAS on the ninth NSC, the cutter Stone, will take place in 2022 and the ship will have full UAS-functionality in 2023. The Coast Guard has contracted with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] for 11 NSCs.
The Coast Guard also said it is examining the potential deployment of UAS across several of its service and land-based platforms. The service has done pilot evaluations of UAS aboard its medium-polar icebreaker Healy. The service has also contracted to begin replacing its medium-endurance cutters with 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters, which will likely also deploy with UAS.